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Saturday, January 28, 2023

It’s high time airlines ended their abusive relationship with our baggage

It sounds like a Seinfeld bit: What’s the deal with airlines losing our bags?

But, seriously, what is the deal? There are unsolved problems in the universe. Dive down Wikipedia rabbit holes and you’ll find: “Why does the magnetosphere of Saturn rotate at a rate close to that at which the planet’s clouds rotate?” “Can the shortest vector of a lattice be computed in polynomial time on a classical or quantum computer?” “What molecule is responsible for synaptic tagging?”

And is that molecule now banging a gong inside Alec Baldwin’s head?

But more than 100 years after the first commercial flight, you know what should be a solvable problem? Airlines figuring out how not to hurl our Samsonites into the Bermuda Triangle. Airlines treating our checked property with a wee bit more care and mercy than a fisherman extends to a bait worm.

The CBC ran a story Thursday that sounded like “The Twilight Zone” not sponsored by Travelocity: “He tracked his bag to Montreal and says airlines won’t give it back.”

Martin Geiger was on a flight last month from Heathrow back home to Ottawa. Due to cancellations, he was rerouted via Geneva, Zurich and then Montreal. His luggage never completed the wintry journey. Swiss International Air Lines has not yet located and returned the bag. This is strange since Mr. Geiger knows exactly where it is.

Thanks to an Apple AirTag tracker, he can see it loitering at Montreal–Trudeau International Airport. But it is “in a secret vault nobody can touch or go to.”

Huh? A secret vault? What’s in that suitcase? Enriched uranium? A Fabergé egg? The script to “Avatar 3”? Al Capone’s travel-sized toothbrush? Why can’t an airport worker in a fluorescent vest and headphones hop on a golf cart and retrieve his bag?

“It would be easier to understand, let’s say, your bag is stolen — has disappeared and you have no tracker and you do not know where it is,” Geiger told CBC. “But I see it standing there since, well, just five minutes ago I checked, right? And it’s now almost a month — standing there (with) Christmas gifts (for) kids inside.”

Those poor kids. That next letter to Santa is going to start with F-bombs.

Then there was this CTV story: “Ontario woman tracks down her missing suitcase but Sunwing won’t let her get it.”

Janet Greaves travelled from Toronto to Cuba last month. But as her delayed flight took off, according to the outlet, “she could still see her bag sitting on the tarmac.”

It’s like looking out a fuselage window and spotting your frantic kid on the runway.

The bag stayed grounded in Toronto. Upon Greaves return, staff informed her it was MIA from the warehouse. But she also had an AirTag as a luggage stowaway.

As she told staff: “I said, ‘Well, it’s not here. It’s on the tarmac directly behind the Air Canada hangar.’”

She revealed the precise location. This was deemed a “secure area.”

Five thousand years from now, archeologists may find her bag in that spot.

Is it my imagination or are these Lost Luggage horror stories getting more frequent?

A press release this week, from Sostravel.com, claims there was a 101 per cent spike over the last year in which airlines “lost, damaged or delayed” checked bags. I’m reminded of a BBC headline: “Why do airlines still mislay 25 million bags a year?

Because air travel is so stressful, because airports are human ant colonies of tick-tock chaos, have we just come to accept the screw-ups? This doesn’t happen elsewhere. The banks don’t misplace your RRSP contribution and then ask you to fill out an insurance claim. You don’t return from the grocery store to discover the clerk forgot your Lucky Charms and now nobody knows where it is. Movers tend not to stay in business long if they earn a reputation for losing couches and lamps.

But, hey, if you’re vacationing in Paris, best to pack a deodorant and some extra underpants in the carry-on just in case your checked baggage ends up in Mogadishu.

There is even a website, Unclaimed Baggage, that sells the contents of suitcases that have either vanished from the tracking grid or were never collected at the carousel. I must say, there are some pretty good deals! You know, if you don’t mind wearing a stranger’s “gently-used” Canali sport coat or “pre-owned” Pomelo floral skirt.

I was disturbed by the prescription glasses. Don’t the original owners need those?

Is there not a solution to this Lost Luggage misery? Should airlines hire forensic detectives? Can some of the dogs on drug and bomb patrol not be diverted to sniff out misplaced American Touristers? Do we need new regulations? If an airline faced a $100,000 fine for every lost suitcase, this problem would be solved overnight.

It all boils down to caring. I remember once awaiting takeoff on a long-haul flight and glancing out the window as the ground crew manhandled luggage like they were in MMA hand-to-bag combat. I sat there praying my wife hadn’t packed any breakables.

The suitcases were flying. It was as if nobody cared about the suitcases.

Yes, airlines are dealing with extreme weather, scheduling snafus, labour shortages, surging fuel costs and a shocking number of customers behaving badly.

But that’s still no excuse to keep losing our stuff.

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